The Observer Effect
Posted by Nathan P. on December 1, 2007
I’m subscribed to C.W Richeson’s LJ, in which he posts his RPG reviews. The latest one is of a game I’d never heard of, called Aletheia. It’s apparently an occult conspiracy RPG with an interested setting – anyway, you can read the review for yourself. It sounds like something that I would be interested in playing, but I don’t think I need to go out and buy it. Anyway, reading the review sparked some ideas that relate to my always-in-the-background desire to make Timestream a better game.
Brain Explosion, Go:
So, there’s this thing called the Observer Effect, or maybe Observer Bias, that all characters are subject to. What it means is that each observer of an event has a specific and subjective understanding of that event, and that consensual reality (i.e. the timestream itself) is the aggregation of subjective observation.
Observer Bias can be strong or weak. The more involved with an event you are, the stronger your Bias, and the more tangential or secondhand your knowledge or involvement, the weaker.
So, time travel and temporal manipulation are always working against the Observation Effect. For new experiences (i.e. everything in your subjective future) you don’t have any Observer Bias, cuz you haven’t observed them yet. For anything you have already experienced, you have a certain amount of personal Observer Bias, which is what you have to overcome in order to change those things. There’s also a certain built-up Observer Effect for most things, that represents how ingrained that event is in consensual reality. Once your able to personally re-experience the situation, then you can try to overcome the ambiant Observer Effect.
So, in some kind of mechanical way, I would think that Bias is the effective “difficulty” of a roll, or set of rolls, or whatever, while the ambient Effect is the “hit points” of the event, which you have to bring to 0 in order to change it.
Big, famous event that you have known about all your life (uh, Hitler, for example, or the JFK assassination) has a high difficulty and loads of hit points.
Big, famous event that you’ve never heard of (like, maybe something in China’s revolutionary past for a working-class American, or the like) has a low difficulty, but still loads of hit points.
Small event that you were personally involved in (basically, anything from your personal past) has a a high difficulty, but if you can overcome that it doesn’t take much to change.
Small events that you don’t know anything about (most of everything else) has a low difficulty and is pretty easy to change.
So, here’s a self-correcting framework for saying “it’s hard to change big things or personal things, but easy to change things that you’ve had nothing to do with and that not many people know about”. Also, once you change an event, you have a stronger Observer Bias (because of your multiple sets of memories about it), and changing it the next time is subsequently more difficult.
Strain (i.e. Paradox) comes from when you can’t overcome the Observation Effect.
So there’s some thoughts.